04/28/2016 2:06PM

Hovdey: California Chrome ready to come back home to roost


Art Sherman figures that if he can’t do anything with the real thing right now, he might as well try to win the $150,000 California Chrome Stakes on Saturday at Los Alamitos.

“That’s kind of unusual, isn’t it?” Sherman wondered. “Trying to win a race named for a horse of yours still in training?”

Yes, it is. Retirement is usually required before a horse is honored in such a manner. Then again, Los Alamitos was put on the map as a Thoroughbred racetrack and training center by the exploits of its most famous resident, so it should be no surprise that owner Ed Allred likes the idea of California Chrome’s name attached to the best race on the final weekend of the brief springtime meet.

For the record, plenty of trainers have won a race named for a horse they took to great heights. Bill Mott has won the Cigar Mile twice with Flat Out and To Honor and Serve. Wayne Lukas won the Lady’s Secret with Sharp Cat. Ron McAnally won the Bayakoa with Listening.

On Saturday, Sherman is a longshot to win the first running of the California Chrome with Mishegas, a gelded son of Include who has worked his way diligently through his conditions, with three wins and two thirds in nine starts. The race is for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, which is comforting. There is a prevailing mood at this time of year that if your foal of 2013 is not among the 20 running in the Kentucky Derby, he’s chopped liver.

Mishegas will be ridden for the first time by Stewart Elliott, so if time served means anything, give the Sherman runner a shot. Among them, the horse, rider, and trainer have been around for 132 years.

“There’s no world-beaters in there,” Sherman said, “although you’ve got to respect Uncle Lino and Baffert’s horse, Malibu Sunset. My horse looks like he’s about there with the rest.”

Win or lose on Saturday, Sherman will awaken Sunday morning with a bounce in his step and an extra sparkle in his eyes. At some point during the day, California Chrome will trundle off the horse van (backward again?) and take up residence in his double-wide Los Alamitos stall. Cue the anticipation.

“There had been some chickens in the stall,” Sherman said with a laugh. “ ‘Who put these chickens in here?’ I said, and nobody knew. They really seemed to like it. Anyway, I disinfected his stall, cleaned it out like it’s brand new.”

Thank goodness horse people are not held to the same high standards as politicians. Just last week, the plan was to keep California Chrome in Kentucky and send him back to Sherman after the Derby. Now that the brain trust has settled on the $200,000 San Diego Handicap on July 23 at Del Mar for the Dubai World Cup winner’s next start, an extra week with the Sherman crew seemed prudent.

“I’ve seen videos of him back at Taylor Made, and man, he’s looking great,” Sherman said. “He’s only put on 45 pounds, which is nothing.

“I’m excited,” Sherman said. “Pumped up to get going with him. We’ll tack-walk him his first day back, then send him to the track to jog. He’s one of those horses that wants to train. If he doesn’t, he can get a little boffo sometimes – kind of ‘mishegas,’ a little crazy – and get to playing pretty strong.”

Coincidental with California Chrome’s return to training was the announcement from Del Mar and Santa Anita managements that there will he a $1 million bonus awaiting the horse who can win the Pacific Classic, the Awesome Again, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. On its face, the bonus smacks of an incentive to keep California Chrome safely home, enabling his people to resist any possible temptations to stray eastward in search of jacked-up purses or appearance money. He is that kind of draw.

Sherman was quoted far and wide earlier this month suggesting that Del Mar double the $1 million offered in the Pacific Classic to make sure California Chrome would run. The reaction from social media was swift and merciless, accusing the trainer of everything from mercenary behavior to hostage taking.

“Would you like to know what really happened?” Sherman said.

Sure, but in this media world, what really happened doesn’t really matter now.

“Tommy came up to me at the Barretts sale and said they were trying to put a little more on the Pacific Classic purse, what with Chrome and Beholder both looking to the race,” Sherman said, referring to Del Mar’s vice president of racing, Tom Robbins. “I said that would be great and said the same thing when a reporter asked me about it. That was all it took, and the next thing I know, I was being called greedy.”

Sherman was taking this all with a large hunk of salt. At 78, he is way beyond caring what anyone thinks of him, but he hates for anything to rub off on California Chrome. As it stands right now, Del Mar will get the horse twice, and Santa Anita will get him twice, whatever is offered. And aren’t the rest of us the lucky ones?

“I guess that $10 million in Dubai got me a little on the muscle,” Sherman said. “The important thing is the horse will be back.”